On this day in 1970, a patent was issued for the first computer mouse.
The invention of the mouse is credited to Douglas Engelbart, who created what he called an “X-Y position indicator for a display system” in 1964 while working for the Stanford Research Institute. His invention, a wooden shell with two metal wheels, was called a “mouse” while it was being developed in the lab because its cord resembled a mouse’s tail. In 1970, a decade before personal computers went on the market, there was little application for such a device. It would be ten more years before someone stepped up to take the mouse to the big time.
In early 1980 Apple co-founder Steve Jobs visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where he saw a computer called the Alto. The Alto operated with a graphical user interface that used icons and a handheld input device called a mouse. The problem, however, was that the Alto’s mouse was primitive and would cost $400 to manufacture. To solve this problem, Jobs turned to an industrial design firm called Hovey-Kelley Design and challenged them to not only improve the durability and efficiency of the Xerox mouse, but also to reduce the cost from $400 to $35. Hovey-Kelley took the challenge, and miraculously they succeeded. In 1983, the Apple Lisa, the first personal computer to offer a graphic user interface, appeared on the market.
At a price of almost $10,000, the Lisa was not a commercial success, but Apple rebounded one year later with the Macintosh 128K. Like the Lisa, the Macintosh had a single-button mouse. The Macintosh and its graphic user interface revolutionized personal computing.
With the popularity of Microsoft Windows in the 1990s, the mouse became what it is today: ubiquitous (1).
Something else that is ubiquitous is the use of animals as metaphors in our language, terms like “computer mouse” that feature animal names but that have no literal connection to the animal that is named.
Today’s Challenge: Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Dictionary
Can you name some two-word phrases in English that use animals as metaphors? Brainstorm a list of ideas, and see if you can add to the list below:
black sheep, white elephant, dog days, cash cow, cold turkey, copycat, crocodile tears, cry wolf, dark horse, eat crow, guinea pig, hornet’s nest, kangaroo court, lame duck, lion’s share, loan shark, monkey business, night owl, paper tiger, play possum, rat race, red herring, road hog, sitting duck, snail mail, spring chicken, stool pigeon, top dog
Select a single two-word metaphor, and write a definition of the phrase, explaining its literal definition as well as the story behind the phrase’s origin. Imagine you are writing to a reader for whom English is a second language. Make your explanation clear by using some specific examples to illustrate how and in what contexts the metaphor might be used? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
1-Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. Mighty Mouse. Stanford Alumni March/April 2002. https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=37694.